As with humans, it is important that pet rabbits have a healthy, balanced diet. A good rabbit diet consists of four elements: hay, water, dried rabbit food, fresh food. Getting the mixture of the four correct is important to ensure that your rabbit stays healthy and does not become overweight. Rabbits are strict vegetarians, so never feed them any meat as it will not agree with their digestion.
The largest part of your rabbit’s food intake should consist of hay. A supply of fresh hay should be available to your rabbit at all times, as rabbits love nothing better than to sit and munch hay.
Plenty of hay will keep your rabbit’s digestive system moving correctly, which is very important to the rabbit’s health. Munching hay will also wear the rabbit’s teeth down so they will not grow too big.
There is a myth that says rabbits get enough water from the fresh food that they eat. This is not true. Pet rabbits need a supply of fresh water to be available at all times. A bottle with a drinking tube attached to the side of the cage or hutch is ideal for pet rabbits, your rabbit will learn how to use this immediately. Make sure that the bottle is big enough for the water to last all day, and change the water at least once a day. It should never be allowed to get empty.
Rabbits can also drink from a bowl, but if you leave a water bowl in the cage or hutch, it could easily get knocked over, so a bottle is better.
Dried rabbit foods that are available from pet shops provide all the additional nutrients that your rabbit needs. Feed your rabbit according to the instructions for the type of food that you buy, and do not overfeed. Only a small amount of dried food is required. You should ensure that the rabbit food is one specifically for rabbits, do not use a food that is meant for rodents (rabbits are not rodents!), as it may have lots of nuts in it and the fat content could be too high.
Most dried rabbit foods consist of various different flakes and pieces. If your rabbit picks out some pieces but always leaves a particular type of flake or piece, it may not be getting all the required nutrients. Change to a food that has all the nutrients combined into just one type of pellet.
Any changes between types of rabbit food should be done gradually. Mix the last of the old food with the first of the new.
Barney and Jemima’s current recommendation is Wagg Bunny Brunch, which is a popular dried rabbit food, to be used in conjunction with plenty of fresh hay and water.
Fresh Food – Plants, Fruit and Vegetables
In addition to the above, you should give your rabbit small amounts of fresh food (e.g. plants, vegetables or fruit). There are many different fresh foods that are safe for rabbits; we have a list of some safe foods for rabbits.
Make sure any new food is safe for rabbits before giving it to your rabbit, but remember that sudden changes and new foods introduced to a rabbit’s diet can cause tummy upsets. Introduce new foods gradually, starting with just a small amount.
Feeding different types of fresh food gives your rabbit plenty of variety in its diet, and can be a nice treat. Fruit is usually fairly sweet with natural sugars, so should be fed in limited quantities to avoid the rabbit becoming overweight. Most rabbits love to be given a little piece of fruit as a treat!
There are many different types of rabbit treats that you may see at the pet shop; chocolate and yoghurt drops, popcorn sticks and various fruit or vegetable treats. These are safe to feed your rabbit (make sure you buy specific rabbit treats), but you should do so only in small quantities.
Rabbits have a sweet tooth, and will eat as much sweet food as they can fit in, not leaving room for the healthy food. If you give them too many treats, they will become overweight, and could have teeth problems as they won’t eat enough hay. Give treats in small amounts and your rabbit will be happy without getting overweight.
A small piece of fresh food is a good rabbit treat, as you know exactly what you are feeding your rabbit. Barney’s favourite treat is parsley, and Jemima loves a grape or two!
What Should Rabbits not Eat?
Rabbits can’t always identify foods and plants that are poisonous to them, so you must make sure that something is a safe food for rabbits to eat before feeding it to your rabbit. We have lists of some of the plants, fruits and vegetables that are safe foods for rabbits.
You may have seen your rabbit eating some of its droppings. This is so that they can digest food twice, and is completey normal for them to do. It helps in the wild where most rabbits live on poor quality grass, and need to digest it twice to get all the nutrients that they need.